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BRAVO Principals...
Communicate Effectively

Did you realize that more than 70 percent of waking time is spent communicating with others? In fact, communicating is exactly what the majority of busy principals do almost all day long. Since communication is so much a part of a principal's job, knowing how to communicate effectively is a key to our success in Building Relationships with Actions that Value Others. That is why when BRAVO principals communicate they follow these three principles:

  • Be truthful, yet tactful.
  • Be available.
  • Be an active listener.
BRAVO Principals

BRAVO is an acronym for Building Relationships with Actions that Value Others. Principals can act in many ways that value others, said Sandra Harris, author of BRAVO Principal!, and each month I will share in this column some of those ways. The ideas shared will not be directionless, busy-work activities; instead they will be tactical actions -- actions with the purposeful intent of building valued relationships with others.

Harris, an associate professor in the educational leadership program at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, is author of other titles including Best Practices of Award-Winning Elementary School Principals (Corwin Press, 2005) and seven titles for Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Her newest book, BRAVO Teacher, was just released.


A wise person once said that tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy. Consider, for example, the case of a teacher whose classroom is always messy. It's true, you are the principal, and you could order her to clean up the room. But a truthful, yet tactful principal would be more likely to say, "Mrs. Mess, your room is really too busy. Perhaps if you simplify the room arrangement"

When I was a new principal, one of the first parent conferences I faced was with an aggressive, angry parent whose son was just plain lazy. But if I called the boy lazy, that would almost definitely create immediate animosity. Instead my mentor principal suggested that I point out the difficulty we were having at school "motivating" his son. Explain the situation without proclaiming any judgment on the boy's character, my mentor suggested -- and that is just what I did. After explaining our take on the boy, I asked the father for his suggestions. The father actually smiled and shared several things that he could try at home, such as providing space and monitoring television-viewing time more closely. As he got up to leave, the father reached over to shake my hand. "You know," he said, "sometimes I think this kid is just plain lazy!"

Remember, be truthful, yet tactful.


An important way that we communicate effectively with faculty, parents, and students is by simply being available. That means that we are seen in the halls, on the playground, when students get on and off the buses, and in the classrooms.

Of course, being available increases our exposure to problems too. For example, when people see us, we rarely can say "Hello" and then walk on. Too often, those quick meetings are a great time for anyone to corner us to share a concern. That's why I always carry a yellow pad with me. When someone mentions an issue, a problem, or a concern, I write it down rather than let myself get pulled into an unwanted or unprepared-for conference. I promise to get back with the person who expressed the issue.

As long as I don't lose that yellow pad, I'll be able to follow up on every conversation.

Because time for in-person meetings with parents and teachers is often limited, the telephone, notes, and e-mail can be great time savers. However, when we say something over the telephone or write something in a note, it is especially easy for that communication to be misinterpreted. I remember well a telephone conversation with a new teacher I had just hired. I called her to talk about our school's reading program. Soon into the conversation I realized that we had very different ideas about how to teach reading. Before I knew it, we were actually having an argument. She almost quit over the phone.

When you feel a conversation going in the wrong direction, slow down and just say, "We need to discuss this in person, can you come in tomorrow at 2?" Quickly, nail down a meeting date and hang up. When you know you will be dealing with "heavy" issues, a face-to-face conversation is always best. There's something about that face-to-face availability that can bring warmth and understanding when sharing a difficult truth with tact.

Tact is key. You must take care with words. How does that old saying go? "Never put both feet in your mouth, because then you don't have a leg to stand on."

The telephone, e-mail, and notes rarely can communicate your caring attitude with the same depth as a face-to-face meeting does.


While it is true that we spend more than 70 percent of our time communicating, we actually spend nearly 45 percent of that time listening. But the average person only remembers less than 8 minutes worth of every 4 hours spent listening. That means that in order to communicate properly we must become better listeners. One way to do that is to be actively involved in the conversation. Active listening makes people feel important.

Consider that you are almost finished writing an e-mail note. A teacher walks into your office (you have an open-door policy) and immediately begins talking. What do you do?

  1. Keep on writing your e-mail and tell the teacher, "Go ahead, I'm listening."
  2. Tell the teacher, "I'll be with you in one minute, let me finish this thought."
  3. Turn away from the e-mail and give the teacher your full attention.

BRAVO principals choose "c." When you turn away from your task, your actions say to the teacher, "You are important; I really care about you."

Principals who communicate well show that they actively listen in many ways. They

  • look for areas of interest.
  • overlook grammar errors, wrong words.
  • postpone judgment.
  • listen for ideas.
  • take notes.
  • respond with nodding, smiling, or frowning.
  • ask for clarifying information or examples.
  • summarize.

Finally, principals who are good communicators and active listeners, listen for implicit messages. What is really being said? Is the teacher angry with the new schedule, or is there an underlying issue? Being sensitive to what is really needed can only happen when you are actively engaged in listening.

Even though active listening improves our listening ability considerably, we still use only about a quarter of our listening capacity and even less of our memory potential. In fact, we forget half of what we've heard within 8 hours. Even worse, eventually we forget up to 95 percent of what we've heard unless cued by something later on.

What does all that mean? It means two things. As good communicators we must

  • work at becoming better listeners and
  • be willing to say what is important -- then say it again, and again.

By saying the most important words and phrases again and again, we are constantly reminding others of important elements of our conversation and we are encouraging them to be more active listeners. For example, if it is important that our school always does "what is best for kids," we want to say that again and again. If our mission is to "increase learning in a caring climate," we want to say that again and again. By repeating those expressions of our mission, we are aiding active communication and involving all stakeholders as integral parts of the mission of our school.

Article by Sandra Harris
Education World®
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